Pet behaviour counsellor
Pet behaviour counsellors advise pet owners on how to deal with general control issues and problematic behaviour with their pets. If you have experience of handling and training animals, and you can develop good working relationships with their owners, this could be the job for you.
You’ll need good communication skills and a patient approach to your work. You’ll also need to be tactful when offering feedback to pet owners.
There is no set route into this job. Many new pet behaviour counsellors work towards membership of a professional body by completing a degree level qualification.
You could work with animal behaviour problems like:
- inappropriate noise, such as excessive barking
- aggression towards people or animals
- destructive behaviour
- toileting issues
- chasing livestock, cars or cyclists
- phobias and fearful behaviours
- general control
As a pet behaviour counsellor most of your work is likely to be with dogs or cats. On a day-to-day basis you could:
- take referrals from vets
- hold consultations in your own centre, in veterinary surgeries or in owners' homes
- talk to the owner and observe the animal to get details of the problem
- analyse the nature of the problem and the likely causes
- draw up a behaviour-modification programme for the owner and pet to follow
- liaise with other animal related professionals
- keep in touch with owners to check progress
- adapt the modification programme if necessary
Pet behaviour counsellors are responsible for the health and safety of pets, owners, themselves and other people when handling animals and recommending treatment plans. This is important because some animals can be aggressive.
You might also offer an animal training service.
You are likely to be self-employed, organising your own tax and insurance, and doing all the administrative tasks involved in running a business.
Working hours and conditions
As you're usually self-employed, you will decide your own working hours. However, you'll need to fit in with your clients' requirements, which could mean working evenings and weekends.
You could be based in your own premises, in veterinary surgeons' clinics or visit owners' homes. You may have to spend some time working outside to observe animals.
Most animal behaviourists spend some time travelling between clients or clinics. A driving licence will be useful.
Pet behaviour counsellors are usually self-employed and charge for each consultation. Charges can range from £85 to over £250.
Total earnings vary depending on the size of the business and your reputation as a pet behaviour counsellor. Counsellors may supplement their income with related work like animal training or writing articles on animal behaviour.
There is no single entry route into this job. Many pet behaviour counsellors work towards membership of a professional body. This will show that you work to high educational and ethical standards, and have relevant experience.
Many new pet behaviour counsellors have at least a relevant degree level qualification. Related degree courses are offered by many higher education institutions and include:
- animal management
- animal behaviour
- zoology with animal behaviour
- animal behaviour and welfare
To do a degree, you will usually need five GCSEs (A-C) including maths, English and science, plus three A levels. You should check with universities for exact entry requirements as other qualifications may also be accepted. Visit the UCAS website for more information about universities and the courses they offer.
You can also search for courses on the Cambridge Institute of Dog Behaviour and Training (CIDBT) and the Pet Education, Training and Behaviour Council websites.
Whichever route you choose you’ll need extensive supervised training, as well as a significant practical, hands-on experience of working with animals. This could come from paid work, such as dog training or handling, or voluntary experience, for example in a kennels or veterinary surgery, or with an animal welfare organisation. Check out the following website for more information about volunteering opportunities in your local area:
Knowledge and experience in working with dogs is important, as most of your work as a pet behaviour counsellor is likely to be with dogs.
Employment within the animal care industry, particularly the animal welfare sector, may offer opportunities for progression into specialised training related to animal behaviour and training.
Take a look at the websites of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC) and the Canine and Feline Behaviour Association (CFBA) for more information about becoming a pet behaviour counsellor.
Training and development
You’ll need to keep your skills and knowledge current, for example by attending workshops, seminars and conferences, and reading professional journals.
You can join professional bodies such as the APBC and the CFBA, who have various membership levels, depending on your qualifications and experience.
With the right qualifications and experience you can apply to the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour for Certified Clinical Animal Behaviourist (CCAB) status. This will allow you entry onto the Register of Certified Clinical Animal Behaviourists. Visit the ASAB website for more information.
You could complete a postgraduate qualification such as a relevant MSc, or a PhD if you are interested in moving into research and already hold a degree. Search for courses on the Postgrad website.
Skills, interests and qualities
To be a pet behaviour counsellor you should have:
- animal-handling skills and experience
- knowledge of dog training
- good spoken and written communication skills
- the ability to empathise with clients and gain their trust
- the ability to motivate pet owners
- a tactful approach when offering advice
- awareness of animal welfare legislation
- have good coaching skills
- awareness of your own limitations and the importance of involving other animal-related professionals when required
You would usually be self-employed or work in a private consulting firm, although you may find employment with an animal welfare charity.
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